Category Archives: Bread

King Arthur Flour – You had me at Babka!


King Arthur Flour… you had me at babka! For me, a chocolate babka is tied for first place with crumb cake. Both are delicious Eastern European coffee cakes making them even more delicious by the addition of a cup of coffee. Both have ample crumb topping and both quintessentially New York. So let’s talk babka! It’s been over 20 years since the Seinfeld episode “The Dinner Party” aired bringing this little coffee cake into the mainstream of pop culture. I could probably recite verbatim the scene when Jerry and Elaine are waiting in the bakery to buy a chocolate babka. Can’t you hear Elaine saying “YOU CAN’T BEAT A BABKA – they’re gonna be heroes!” Let’s face it, she’s right – you can’t beat a babka, especially chocolate! Plus, while perfect anytime, it is especially perfect to enjoy during your weekend brunch.

The month of April was the King Arthur Flour chocolate babka bakealong. If you don’t know about the King Arthur bakealong, join the club. I stumbled upon it accidentally on Instagram. Each month they announce a new recipe for us to try, with tips and step-by-step instructions on their blog. After you have created your delicious masterpiece, they invite you to share a photo of your final product tagging it with #bakealong.

I found out about this at the most inopportune time; it was during the week of Passover (which was a couple of weeks ago). Passover is a holiday when Jewish people celebrate their freedom from slavery. It is also a time when we don’t eat bread (or babka for that matter!), instead we eat unleavened products like matzo. Here I was, smack in the middle of Passover, a holiday I love by the way, enjoying my matzo (LOL) and everyday there were beautiful photos of babka being posted on Instagram. Since then, I have had babka on the brain! Which, if you know me is not so unusual! What’s a girl to do? My only challenge was blocking out 5 hours or so to make it. Don’t be frightened; it’s only about 45 minutes hands-on time, other than that it’s just waiting for it to rise.

Coming in just under the wire, as tomorrow is the last day of April, I finally found the time and have been noshing on it all week! While keeping the integrity of the recipe I still managed to put my splash on it. I noticed in the photos posted by other bakers it seemed there was a higher cake to chocolate filling ratio. I’m all about the filling so I made twice the recipe called for. Being a self-proclaimed babka connoisseur, and crumb topping lover, I doubled that as well. I also rolled mine a little thinner so there was a denser chocolate marbling.


It was an easy recipe to follow and yielded a perfect and delicious babka. If I had one comment, it felt like there was too much dough to fit in the two 9” loaf pans. I ended up trimming the excess and made muffins out of some of the extra dough. These are the times when I hear my mother’s voice… “having too much babka dough should be the biggest problem you have in your life!” Next time I will make 3 instead, wishing I could share one with her.

Once in the oven, my babkas took on a life of their own which I took notice of when they were rising. I placed the loaf pans on a lined sheet pan before I put them in the oven and boy I’m glad I did; there was a bit of crumb spillage over the edges. Overall, the outcome was perfect and I loved the recipe.  The flavor is really what you expect this delicious coffeecake to taste like. The chocolate was luscious and rich, the cake very tender, and the crumb topping added just the right contrast. The extra crumb topping and chocolate filling really hit the mark. There is no better way to enjoy a weekend than with a piece of chocolate babka and a nice cup of coffee!

The recipe which follows is adapted from the King Arthur Flour blog post from their April bakealong challenge. The recipe makes two very large loaves. They suggest keeping one, and giving one away, (which I did and it got rave reviews). One person said it was the best babka she ever had. King Arthur got inspiration for their recipe from Maggie Glezer, and her book, A Blessing of Bread. I recently checked it out of the library and am in the middle of reading it now. Of course I will have to try her recipe as well. I was excited to learn the word babka in Polish means grandmother! When I have grandchildren, if not Bubbe, I’ll be Babka! Enjoy!

Prep:  25 to 35 minutes
Bake:  50 to 60 minutes
Total:  5 to 6 hours 15 minutes
Yield:  2 loaves is what the original recipe states, but I suggest 3

Dough
1 to 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water (more if needed)
2 large eggs
6 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/3 cup Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk (I used Carnation)
2 tablespoons instant yeast, SAF Red or SAF Gold instant yeast preferred (I used Fleishmann’s Yeast)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (I melted it)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Egg wash

1 large egg beaten with a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar until well-combined

Filling (below is already doubled)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup Double-Dutch Dark Cocoa, Triple Cocoa Blend, or the cocoa powder of your choice, Dutch-process or natural (I used Hershey’s Cocoa powder)
1 teaspoon espresso powder (I omitted)
1/2 cup melted butter
2 cup finely chopped semisweet chocolate or semisweet chocolate chips, mini chips preferred (I used 1 heaping cup Ghirardelli mini semisweet chocolate chips)
2 cup diced pecans or walnuts, toasted if desired (I omitted)

Topping (below is already doubled)
8 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour


Directions
Combine all of the dough ingredients (starting with the lesser amount of water), mixing until everything is moistened. Add additional water if necessary to enable the dough to come together. I started with larger amount of water and added another ½ cup. It was very dry dough. Cover the bowl, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes. Then mix/knead it until it’s soft and smooth.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, and cover the bowl. The dough is going to rise for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until it’s quite puffy.

Gently deflate the dough, and divide it in half (or thirds). Set the pieces aside, covered, while you make the filling.

To make the filling: Combine the sugar, cinnamon, cocoa, and espresso (which I omitted). Stir in the melted butter. The mixture will look grainy and slick; that’s okay.

Shape each half of the dough into a 9″ x 18″, 1/4″-thick rectangle. If the dough “fights back,” let it rest for 10 minutes to relax the gluten, then stretch it some more. Don’t be fussy about this; 19″ or 20″ is as good as 18″.

Smear (if you’re Jewish, schmear!) each piece of the dough with half the filling, coming to within an inch of the edges.

Scatter half the chocolate (you’ll make a thin layer), half the nuts, and half the chopped chocolate/chips over each piece. If using standard-size chips, process them in a food processor first, to create smaller bits of chocolate and a less chunky filling.

Starting with a short end, roll each piece gently into a log, sealing the seam and ends. Working with one log at a time, use a pair of scissors or a sharp knife to cut the log in half lengthwise (not crosswise) to make two pieces of dough about 10″ long each; cut carefully, to prevent too much filling from spilling out. With the exposed filling side up, twist the two pieces into a braid, tucking the ends underneath. Repeat with the other log. Place each log into a lightly greased 9″ x 5″ loaf pan. (In addition to spraying the pans, I lined them with parchment paper. This made it much easier to take out)

Brush each loaf with the egg wash. Mix together the topping ingredients until crumbly, divide it in half and sprinkle the topping over each loaf.

Tent each pan with plastic wrap, and let the loaves rise until they’re very puffy and have crowned a good inch over the rim of the pan, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 300°F.

Bake the bread for 35 minutes. Tent lightly with foil, and bake for an additional 15 to 25 minutes (for a total of 50 to 60 minutes); the loaves should be a deep-golden brown.

To ensure the loaves are baked through, insert a digital thermometer into the center of one loaf. It should register at least 190°F. (I used a cake tester and it came out clean. Baking time was just about spot on.

Remove the loaves from the oven, and immediately loosen the edges with a heatproof spatula or table knife. Let the loaves cool for 10 minutes, and then turn them out of the pans onto a rack to cool completely.

Slice the babka and serve it at room temperature; or rewarm individual slices briefly in a toaster, if desired. Store any leftovers, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.

 

Popovers with Strawberry Butter

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How lucky can a girl get when her husband and son wake up early on Mother’s day to make delicious popovers? Pretty lucky, especially since I love popovers. I wouldn’t say they are my favorite breakfast, but they’re right up there with the best of them. Growing up, my mother would take my sister and I to Neiman Marcus department store for lunch. That’s where I ate my first popover. They were served with softened butter and warm jam, it was such a treat to go there for a ladies lunch and have them. When my sister Rochelle came to visit us in Florida we always went there for lunch, she loved it. For days after my mother would talk about their delicious popovers; they’re so crusty yet soft inside, how do they get that way, they must be difficult to make. Then one day we decided to make them. I was taking home economics in high school and there was a recipe for popovers in the cookbook I had. Imagine, a plain old Betty Crocker cookbook could have such a fantastic recipe. It was only 5 ingredients and we thought how easy is that, let’s try it? Turns out, they were easy and so delicious. They became our special occasion breakfast. For my birthday this past summer, my son’s Jarred and Ethan made them for me on my birthday for breakfast. I’m glad they remembered to make them for me today as well. As my mother always said, everyday is mother’s day so enjoy yours with this special treat!

2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup milk at room temperature
1 tablespoon butter melted (plus extra to grease the muffin tins)
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Generously butter 6 muffin tins or six 5 ounce custard cups and set aside on a cookie sheet.

In a blender or with a mixer blend the eggs, milk, butter and salt. Blend just until mixed. Add the flour and blend on low just until smooth. Do not over beat.

Fill muffin tins ¾ full or if using custard cups about ½ full and bake for 20 minutes then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake about 15 to 20 minutes longer or until a deep golden brown. Keep an eye on them. If they get too brown on top, cover lightly with foil. Immediately remove from cups and serve.

You can serve them with butter or your favorite jam. Another delicious way to enjoy them is by making your own strawberry butter. There are a few recipes out there that add confectioner sugar to the butter and jam mixture. I find that too sweet and make it the way a restaurant in NYC taught me (coincidentally it was my first mother’s day). We went to a restaurant called Coconut Grill on the upper east side of Manhattan. Jarred was only about one month old and we were so tired we couldn’t even remember when we ate last. They put a basket of Irish soda bread on the table with a little cup of strawberry butter. It was the most delicious thing I ever tasted. The waiter was so nice he gave us the recipe.

1/2 pound (1 stick) of unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup strawberry jam (or your favorite jam, berry jams work the best)

With a hand mixer whip the butter until smooth. Add the jam and incorporate just till mixed lightly. It’s okay if the butter has streaks of jam. It couldn’t be any easier then that!

 

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I took a bunch of photos of my son while mixing the batter but found out I didn’t have a chip in my camera!  How ridiculous is that? UGH!  So here is the beautiful finished product. Golden on the outside and soft and moist on the inside. So yummy!

My Friday Ritual… Challah for Shabbos

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It seems fitting my first post would be a recipe for challah. I bake challah most every Friday. It is a ritual that has become such a special time for me and I look forward to it every week. I wake up early and while the coffee is brewing I mix all of the ingredients to make this delicious traditional bread for Shabbos. There is something wonderful and magical about baking bread especially for Shabbos. It’s a time for ending the week and renewal for the next. What better way to do both with a nice warm piece of homemade bread?

Most Fridays, I make a plain sweet challah. But every now and then I change it up a little. Today I decided to make it with cinnamon sugar and cranberries. You can see the cranberries wanting to bust out of the bread and scream “hello, look at me” and you can’t resist! It takes a lot of willpower not to want to tear a piece off straight from the oven. Sometimes I make myself a little treat and make a couple of small rolls so I can enjoy them with my lunch.

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I started baking challah about 9 years ago soon after I moved to Ohio; in all honesty it was survival. There was no good challah here. Not even a good bakery. My sister Francine would ship me a box of them from New York and I would put them in the freezer. If I went back for a visit, the car ride home was usually unbearable as the aroma of the breads filled the car. It was loaded with as many challahs as the car could hold. Then one day, I was taking a Torah study class and the Rabbi’s wife taught us how to make challah. She didn’t really have a written recipe, so like I had done for so many years with my mother, I stood next to her and wrote everything down. When I got home, I typed it up for myself and the other girls. That night, my family couldn’t believe I baked bread! I have to be honest, I couldn’t believe it either.

It became one of those recipes everyone wanted a copy of. Then after sharing it with dozens of people, I lost my challah mojo. When they baked, they came out cracked on top and sometimes baked uneven. I thought it might be a problem with my oven so I had it checked – oven was fine. I emailed Marcy Goldman (a wonderful baker and cookbook author) who advised me as to why she thought this might be happening. She questioned my rise time and whether or not I changed any ingredients. I was letting it rise the same but had changed my yeast. I tried it again and still wasn’t the same. What I realized since is when something is successful, leave well enough alone. If you have a chance to pick up her book A Treasury of Jewish Baking, do so – it’s filled with amazing and delicious recipes!

Then I reached out to a good friend of mine (also named Marcy!) who also bakes challah every Friday night and are absolutely delicious! We baked together and it was bashert (Yiddish for meant to be). She was using Marcy Goldman’s sweet challah recipe. Needless to say, they came out perfectly! Thank you Marcy and Marcy – I have been using this recipe ever since and getting rave reviews for it. Sometimes change is a good thing!

So here is my Splash! on Marcy Goldman’s Sweet Raisin Challah

2 tablespoons dry yeast (Fleishman’s active dry yeast)
1  3/4 cups warm water
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
3 eggs plus 2 egg yolks (at room temperature)
1/2 cup light olive oil (or other baking oil you choose)
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
6 to 7 cups bread flour
1  1/2 cups cranberries (optional)

egg wash: 1 egg, pinch of sugar, pinch of salt 1 teaspoon water (use in 2 steps)

In a 2 cup glass measuring cup or bowl add the warm water, yeast and sugar. Mix and then let stand for about 5 to 7 minutes for the yeast to bloom (becomes foamy on top).

In a large mixing bowl, add the eggs (at room temperature), sugar, honey (see my favorite things page for a tip), oil, and salt. Mix well. Combine the two liquid mixtures. Add the flour one cup at a time and mix. Once it becomes too difficult to mix with a spoon, I start to use my hands and mix the dough until it is smooth and elastic. I knead the dough right in the bowl but you can turn it out onto a floured board and knead it that way. Add flour as needed and knead only until the dough feels smooth about 12 turns or so.

Place the dough into a large lightly oiled bowl. Place plastic wrap over the bowl cover it with a towel and let the dough rise for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours in a warm place. Check on it in 1 hour. If it has doubled in size it’s ready to braid.

Line a couple of sheet pans with parchment paper and set aside. Punch the dough down and then turn it out onto a floured surface. Split it in half or into 3 pieces. In the past, I would make 2 very large challahs from this recipe but have recently started making 3 out of it. Making one challah at a time, take one piece of dough and split that into thirds. Roll each into snakes approximately 10″ to 12″ long. Put the snakes next to one another, connect them on one end and start to braid them. Place the challah onto a cookie sheet. Do the same with the other two pieces of dough. Place them on the cookie sheets leaving plenty of room between them. Brush with the egg wash and put in a warm spot for about 30 to 45 minutes. They will almost double in size.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Brush the challahs again with the egg wash and place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown on top.

This recipe will make 3 nice size challahs or two very large ones. Enjoy!